Telling the truth and being honest are underrated. But aren’t they the same thing? In the realm of business, they are two sides to the same coin. Telling the truth is simply answering a customer’s question. Being honest is answering the customer’s unasked question. Building an excellent customer experience and — by extension, a strong competitive position — comes with building trust with your customers.
What’s the worst thing you can do? Lie. What’s a close second? Lie by omission.
Aristotle famously coined the term “Horror Vacui,” which loosely translates to “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In visual art, kenophobia is the inability or fear of open spaces. It’s a mental condition where a visual artist needs to paint every detail in the available area; to fill the canvas with paint.
In small businesses it can be explained in simple terms — the customer will fill in the gaps. They will paint the rest of the picture if you don’t. If they are unsatisfied with your answer to their question, and they feel there is more to the story, they will fill in the blanks with their own anxieties and assumptions. Those assumptions may blame you when really you have no control over the weather, global supply chains, and geopolitics.
Guess what? The customer doesn’t care.
So many companies fail to be transparent about their processes. Why? What are you afraid of? Afraid the customer won’t buy from you? Too late. They already have doubts about your trustworthiness if your explanation doesn’t make sense to them. Are you hiding behind computer problems or blaming “the system”? Again, they don’t care.
What a customer wants to know is how you can provide the solution to their problems. If you can’t provide that solution, you should be offering alternatives or being honest about why you can’t. If you know that nobody can solve their problem, provide evidence for why you think that is. Above all, customers want trust. They need confidence in their purchase decisions. They need you to be honest so they can have more confidence in making a purchase.
Do you have supplier problems?
So does everybody else. Being honest and transparent about those problems goes a long way to building trust and understanding with a prospect.
Here’s an example: semiconductors. Semiconductors require a lot of water. Taiwan is the No. 1 producer of semiconductors, and they are experiencing historical droughts. Natural disasters like tsunamis and floods are affecting island nations like Malaysia, where components are assembled. Then there’s COVID-19 restricting manufacturing by closing factories. There are also trade wars among major nations. If that weren’t bad enough, fear of the coronavirus, depressed wages, and local unemployment aid have kept factory workers out of the building, so the machines sit idle. That’s just on the supply side.
When lockdown happened, everybody bought electronics to stay at home. Each of those electronics requires chips. The amount of exponential demand simply exhausted the global supply. As the #workfromhome movement heats up and the new hybrid models for office workers kick in, businesses will need to provide tools for home-based offices. That means higher broadband requirements, new communication tools, and remote cloud capability. Is any of that the fault of the small business trying to use those components in their products?
When a customer walks in for a product that you can’t produce, either partially or in full, tell them the normal process of how the order would be fulfilled. Then tell them the parts you have no control over. Present your evidence for why you think this is a bigger problem than your shop. Don’t hide from the bad news. By sharing, you are now joining forces with the prospect to understand together. If the customer is skeptical of your answers, they will ask around. When their second, third, and fourth opinions all match yours, you will become even more trustworthy because you were the first. Never underestimate being the first!
It’s OK to tell the truth
If you don’t know the answer, simply say, “I don’t know.” If you think somebody does know, go ask them. If you think nobody knows, then engage the customer in creative ways to solve the problem together. Is there an alternative? Could you work with what you do have to solve their problem, even if it’s not ideal?
Many people suffer from a common problem known as “never let perfect be the enemy of good.” While you are waiting for the exact solution, your problem will continue to grow. If your washer dies, the laundry will continue to pile up while you figure out which appliance you want and whether anyone can get it. The birthday party or special event can’t be delayed forever. Solving a customer problem is what earns repeat business and referrals. The truth can help get you one step further to achieving that goal. If the goal satisfies the need, it doesn’t always have to be perfect, it needs to be solved.
Overcommunication is always a good thing
Even before the current global health crisis — overcommunication is just good business. It fills the gaps. It puts the customer’s mind at ease. It builds trust. It prevents kenophobia. If a prospect contacts you, it’s because they have a problem. They want to know if you can solve their problem. With how things are going lately, it’s probably safe to assume they are under a lot of stress. More information and consistency, even when delivering bad news, is better than nothing.
Be honest. Be transparent. Build trust. Nature abhors a vacuum. Your customers do, too.